9 Jan 2010

First Week

Wow. I didn't expect so much to suddenly come at me in school, especially for the first week. I thought it would be more relaxed because of the first lessons with your new teachers, and the mandatory explanation of the 2010 syllabus. Speaking of which, the school stopped with the practice of small common tests that contribute to your grades, and instead revert back to old-fashioned mid-year + end-of-year exams. While this dramatically reduces the number of important tests, this also adds pressure on the importance of these major exams; we don't have any other tests to boost our score if we screw up... :(

The first day, which unfortunately happened to fall on a Monday(insert Garfield reference), was quite short. No lesson at all, just so-called "teacher-student interaction" for one and a half hours. Of course most of that time was spent on the "student" part. And then all the sec 4s went for the Castles Can Fly thing, meant to foster interaction and stronger bondage between batch-mates, and further emphasize the importance of teamwork. Why are we doing this when we've done 3 other orientation programmes for the last 3 years? Maybe one is not enough, but four might be too much.

What is this Castles Can Fly is all about? The whole batch is split into 3 major "tribes" named after the 3 main colours of the school(wanna guess?). The scenario is that we are the only ones left on Earth in the year 2040 and we are supposed to build our own future schools, based on what our tribes focus on. Two questions come to my mind: Why are we building schools at the age of 45 or 46?!? And if we students are the only survivors, is there any point of surviving further since there's no way to... ahem... repopulate?

[Actually according to the story, only 5 students(or is it 4?) remained and they "repopulated" and eventually grew to these current tribes. These 5 students became Elders. And we became products of asexual reproduction...?!?]

So the rest of the first day was wasted on planning the entire school, which was to be built on sand(hence the word Castles, as in Sandcastles). Each tribe was split into 10 smaller groups so that each one can work on a specific part of the school. Rather than speed up the process, I think it worsened it, because each group wasn't sure what the others are designing exactly, which is a problem since some groups needed to know the other plans before they start theirs.

By right, if not for CCA, I would have ended school at 12.30. Instead, I get stuck for 3 hours waiting for practice because of a performance 3 days away. To explain further, each year the secondary 1 students have their overnight orientation camp in school, and on the last day they get to see all the different CCAs in the school so that they can make their choice better. his process is called the Raffles Trail. (Some people think it's Trial, but ithat also makes sense) They go around in an allocated school block, where they visit booths set up in classrooms. But before that, all the groups have to show something to them; in the case of the musical groups, perform music.

The second day was slightly better, when things are slightly warmed up and we get to know more of our mystery teachers. Frankly, I think my class is mostly unsatisfied, if not horrified, by the teachers that we are stuck with. We have the same maths teacher, same physics teacher, same Chinese teacher, same PE teacher, same philosophy teacher. The rest have changed, probably for the worse.....

The third day was madness for me; just one more day to the performance. Everyone had to polish up everything for the big thing the next day, so we were replaying specific parts over and over again. And for some unknown reason I ended up at the front!!! I thought usually section leaders were supposed to sit there, but the conductor just said to fill up the spaces, which were awfully plenty, because the secondary 3 students were off for OBS the entire week, leaving us sec 4s to do the dirty work.
And I still had math tuition later that night. >.< Fourth day: because almost all of us were meant to be at the Raffles Trial...I mean Trail, very few classmates were left for the last lesson, which I later found out that the teacher for that lesson was on MC. The performance turned out...well, less that expected? The venue of performance is what the school calls the Atrium, which is a small circular area with a super high dome-shaped glass ceiling. Because of the ample vertical space above us, the sounds produced tend to echo and dissipate a LOT, so sound quality is dramatically reduced, even with microphones. Combine that with the guitars that produce generally soft and short sounds, and you get a pretty inaudible performance. Meanwhile, as I play at the front( >:( ), I spot some of the sec 1s talking/dozing off. I even saw one of them mimicking the conductor's hand movements, which I cannot laugh at as I'm still stuck RIGHT IN FRONT of the conductor performing...

...and finally the last day, which is yesterday. Castles definitely will not fly, but at least they were about to take shape. It was also supposed to be the day the sec 1s "officially" become Rafflesians: they will finally get to wear the badge, which their form teachers(all dressed in the gowns, not the wedding type) will painstakingly pin on for them individually. When I had to go through that, my teacher took a long time to pin it on me, because I had a large packet of tissue in the breast pocket, which is where the badge is supposed to be. He probably took at most one minute before it was done.

That day was also supposed to be the day the sec 3s come back from OBS, all of them suffering from sunburn and dehydration. A constant reminder of how lucky(or as they think, unlucky) I am to have skipped all that.

Oh right, the sandcastles. When we reached the beach at East Coast we saw the big mounds of sand already prepared, as well as a gigantic structure built for the school, which had a big word UMOJA imprinted on it. Two questions come to my mind: What does Umoja mean and how the heck are the letters imprinted so neatly in sand?!? I only can answer the first question: Umoja just means "united", which is the whole aim of this sandcastle-building, but I beg to differ, after later observations while building. (That word is Swahili, by the way)

We obviously can't build if we don't know how to use the tools given, so the trainers gave everybody a quick demonstration on how ridiculously simple it is to build walls, towers, stairs etc, all they did mainly is "Compact, Position, Tap, Remove". They didn't actually say that, I just invented that. But that is mainly what they do.

And then it was construction time. Because you can only build properly with wet sand, some guys have to constantly bring water to keep the sand moist. And where to get the water? Not a tap, but the nearby sea. I found that if you know when the tide comes in, filling up the pails take much less time! And it makes you wetter.

While everybody was toiling under the confusing weather(I say confusing because sometimes it was hot and sunny, sometimes there were clouds, sometimes it drizzled lightly), I saw the RI staff members trickling in. The principal and deputy headmaster showed up to see what we were doing.

Then I realized that this whole thing is also an excuse for teachers to enjoy themselves at the beach! Some teachers even brought their kids to play in the sand. The only difference between us and them is that their objective is to have fun, while ours is to satisfy the given requirements of the scenario, which is precisely what homework projects sound like. Of course, maybe it is good that the teachers are here instead of cooped up in the office cubicles...

Even when this castle-building activity finally ended, my day hadn't yet: right after that I had to make my way to a Japanese Noh performance at the National Library Drama Theatre(first time in there, and it is actually a good performance venue in term of the audience). If you're wondering what Noh(or Nogaku) is, here's the Wikipedia article. Basically, it's a form of Japanese drama, where everything(yes, EVERYTHING) is done gracefully without haste...which is kinda bad since I just used up a lot of energy at the beach. Slow performance = higher chance of dozing off. Anyway, that concert finally ended at 10pm!!!

See how busy the first week is?!? I just wish the rest of the weeks aren't as jam-packed, because these five days have been VERY exhausting! Hopefully things can finally settle down and I can get accustomed to normal school life again...without getting a nervous breakdown. I know that 2010 is a year of so many brand new things, but not too many at once!